Believe What You Like But Know What You Must

People are free to be consumed with contemplating their existence, their origins, the origins of the universe, supreme beings, controllers of destiny or anything else. But solving "the Great Mystery" is neither a requirement of being Ohnkwe Ohnwe nor does it provide a path to righteousness. I maintain that spirituality does not require faith or the leaps that faith requires but rather awareness. If it helps to believe that "God has a plan" and we just must have faith that "He" knows what "He" is doing, then walk that path. My interest is in taking the mystery out of life by pointing to the obvious that is ignored everyday in the midst of fanatical ideology and the sometimes not too subtle influences of promoting beliefs over knowledge. I have said it before: “beliefs are what you are told, knowledge is what you experience”. I support a culture that prepares us to receive knowledge and to live a life with purpose. I am certainly not suggesting there is only one way to do that.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cayuga and Seneca Counties Sponsor Racist Web Site

Cayuga and Seneca Counties have launched a web site to be used as a tool to keep the Cayuga People from settling back in their homeland. link in the sidebar) is sponsored by the counties and is set up to acquire as many comments against Cayugas returning home as possible. The web site is filled with misinformation and outright lies relating to the Cayugas claim to their homeland and the negative impact of their return. The intent of the counties is to use this process to gather as many negative opinions and comments on the Cayuga people and submit these comments as part of the federal process for setting aside land for Native use. The Cayuga People do not need the Fee-To-Trust process for reclaiming their land. The federal government is not acquiring it for them. The Cayuga Nation has compensated those that were misled into believing they had legal title to the reclaimed land, land that has never lost its status as part of the Cayuga land base held since time immemorial and recognized by the US in the treaties with the Six Nations.
The web site is racist and should be attacked from all sides. A comment submitted by this writer to the site criticizing the counties and the site was rejected for submission. There is no ability to view your submissions after-the-fact to determine the accuracy and editing/omissions used in their recording process. Only those who would want their words to be use to attack and continue to drive the Cayuga people from their land can be assured their words and voices will be seen and heard.
The name of the site itself is somewhat oxymoronic. While I agree that Cayuga Land should not be held by the federal government for their use; the title suggests acknowledgement of the fact that the Cayugas have land but oppose their right to use it as Cayugas. The rightful title to the land is held by the Cayuga women for the future generations. The title is absolute and neither the counties, the State nor the federal government can hold or claim its title.
I call on all our friends and relatives to take action against these two counties that attempt to rob our lands while calling themselves Cayuga and Seneca. The racism and discrimination as well as fraud and slander cannot be left unchecked.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Judge Derails New York State Tax Law

New York State Supreme Court Judge Rose Sconiers handed Governor Paterson, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature a "Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect Tax Dollars" card on Tuesday morning. In a foolish attempt to stack another bad law on a law this judge already flagged as incomplete and unenforceable, the State earned another injunction from Judge Sconiers. The injunction blocks the State's latest attempt to either force Native cigarette retailers into collecting tax for the State or shut off the access to product. The order is a preliminary injunction only that addresses flaws in the law and failure of the State's tax department to develop the mechanisms laid out in the statute. The ruling did not address issues of the State's authority or the sovereignty of our people and territories. The injunction can be lifted if the court determines that the State has met the burdens placed on its tax department. There is no question that the ruling is a set back for the State, but caution in declaring this a major victory must be taken. The time granted in this reprieve should be used to ween Native retailer from dependency on State licensed wholesalers. The best long-term strategy to protecting our right to conduct trade and commerce is to interact with the State as little as possible and concentrate on Native products produced on Native land and distributed to and from Native communities. Governor Paterson has proven to be an extremely ineffective executive and does not deserve the time of day from our people let alone the right to sit at a negotiating table with us. We owe it to those that will come after us to maintain a strong posture and refuse to yield any ground to the State on this issue or any other attempt by the State to disturb us or our activities. We need to be vigilant and make sure that the weak links in our midst are not lured into deal making or concessions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Seneca Gathering a Success

The Seneca People want to extend a sincere thanks to all those that came out to their Gathering on Sunday and to all those that support the Native position against New York State's interference with commerce on Native land. The Gathering was a huge success with participation from many communities. The news media gave considerable coverage to the event as did the New York State Police and its Governor. About half way through the event word spread that the Governor sent a fax to Barry Snyder pledging his commitment to a "mutually productive relationship". In reality this is neither David Paterson's nor Barry Snyder's call. The People must be extra vigilant when the wheels of the deal making process starts. The Senecas, in particular, must recall the events of 1838. Our history is full of our so-called leadership, or at least those that our opponents would prop up, selling us out for what they were led to believe was the "best deal". There is no room for negotiations on our right to conduct commerce unencumbered by the State. The State is free to figure out how to squeeze every dollar out of its people on their land and it will be up to those people and their courts to decide if it is legal and appropriate. The Seneca People need to state clearly to anyone that would claim to negotiate on their behalf that not only will the People refuse to yield anymore to the State but that the "staus quo" won't do either. The People refuse to live under these threats from uninformed politicians in Albany everytime a new administration takes over. The People must not let their representatives compromise taxation for gaming or land use for some other red herring. Paterson's willingness to talk is not a concession yet Snyder has suggested he would "reconsider the initiatives instituted two weeks ago to protect the Seneca people". I would hope that this insulting lip service would not move the Seneca People even if it, for some strange reason, lulls Mr. Snyder into a false sense of security.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama: The New Lincoln? I Hope Not!

As the US crowns its new king, the world looks on with hope and wonder. The former Illinois Senator has from day one been compared to the most popular US President: Abraham Lincoln. The world looks at Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, Freer of the Slaves and the Healer of a Divided Nation. Whether he deserves all this credit is rarely debated. History has closed that debate. However buried in that era of slavery and Civil War are a few chapters of the American Holocaust that began long before Lincoln and continues today. But what of Lincoln and the "Indians"? and what will Mr. Obama's legacy with Native People be? While Mr. Lincoln was earning his place in history he signed the Homestead Act, essentially opening huge tracts of Native lands to white settlement. In the conflicts that raged over this action thousands of Native men, women and children were killed and millions of acres of Native land were illegally occupied. The largest mass execution in the history of the US judicial system occurred when Mr. Lincoln signed the execution order for 38 Lakota. These details of American history are rarely visited. It must be noted that Mr. Lincoln is not the only President to have committed crimes against Native People with little or no attention. John F. Kennedy, who is allowed to bask a glow as a champion of civil rights, saw little problem with violating the Human rights of the Seneca People and nature itself as he approved the flooding of thousands of acres of Seneca land with the construction of the Kinzua Dam. Neither the fact that Mr. Obama is a Democrat or a black man should grant any solace to Native People. New York State has a Governor that is both of these, yet he has just signed legislation to destroy the existing economies of eleven Native communities. I know there are many Native People that have already embraced this new President and claim him for their own, but there are many of us who don't. While we are hopeful that a man may finally take office that will not earn the traditional title; Rahnatakias or "town destroyer", that the 43 before him have earned, we know he is not our president. To us, until he proves otherwise, he is just the 44th man to hold the title of Rahnatakias. Like Lincoln and Kennedy, Mr. Obama has many challenges and opportunities that may make history, but history has a way of clouding the truth and can be very selective in its recollection. We know Native issues will be a low priority for this administration, they always are, so I have followed Mr. Obama's advice and lowered my expectations for him. I don't expect Mr. Obama to be a solution for Native People, I just hope he isn't another problem for us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Did He Really Say That?

Is the current Governor of the State of New York that ignorant of history that he could really be making the comments the press is claiming he made? I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone but the most ignorant racist could say that Native People must compensate New York State for the "privileges and benefits" of being located in the State. I didn't hear him actually say the words so I'm cautious in my response. Let's just say if Mr. Paterson has beliefs that represent anything close to this sentiment, then he or anyone else that feels this way should just continue to ignore us and drop the whole issue. This kind of stupidity will just get someone hurt. I don't set the bar higher for Mr. Paterson because he is black, nor do I for the in-coming US President, but you would think a man of color would at least understand that there is enough complexity borne out of the history of racism and oppression in the US to keep him from suggesting that the State has made us a Privileged People. Let me be clear. Neither the United States nor any of its member states have ever given us a right or a privilege. Every right we have, we have always had. We battle the State and federal governments every day to honor their promises to never claim our land and not to disturb us in the use of it. Year after year these governments have looked for ways to fit us in their box. They pass laws out west, drag Native people into courts and then claim they have legal precedent to act against us and all those promises they made. They build bad laws on top of bad court rulings in places irrelevant to us and call it Federal Indian Law. Mr. Paterson, if this is too much for you to acknowledge and grasp, you are not alone. Why do you think this confusion for you still exists? It is time to punt. Just like everyone that came before you. You can't accept the truth of our Sovereignty and our birthright, so rather than costing your State billions, making a fool of yourself with stupid comments and risk getting someone hurt, just let it go. You don't even have to apologize.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Stage is Set for a Rough 2009

Anyone who heard what the Seneca Nation had to say today that believes it was little more than sabre rattling may be right. But what was hidden in those words was the implicit approval for the Seneca People to begin taking action themselves. With the Seneca Nation officials asserting a legal claim to the land the Thruway passes through, it is just a matter of time before travel is interrupted. Mr. Paterson has started a ball rolling that will inevitably come back around to crush his tenure as governor. With all his budget problems, picking a fight with Native People in eleven communities spread throughout the State is just stupid. Unlike for Mr. Paterson, our people have seen this all before. The difference this time is that our people have more resources, experience and incentive, while the State has a police force that has made it clear they want no piece of this and a budget that has no room for another 30 million dollar debacle(that's in 1997 dollars). The State needs to finally stop jumping to the commands of the convenience store lobby and Big Tobacco and take a look at why they are so passionate about attacking our commerce. State tax law allows its residents to have up to two cartons of cigarettes at any given time with no NYS or NYC tax paid anywhere in the State with no tax liability imposed upon them. With this move from the State, what is being proposed is a scenario where the State continues to look the other way as its residents leave the State to avoid its oppressive tax burden while digging in against Native retailers that contribute to the State's economy. The convenience stores oppose us because they can't set up shop on our territories. They can, however, set up across any city, county or state line that gives them and advantage. Big Tobacco is gunning for us because we are chipping away at their market share with our own manufactured products. When we were providing cheap access to their product, they bent over backwards to accommodate us. Big Tobacco fought over us for shelving contracts and premium display space. They provided promotional discounts on their products creating even more price disparity with the convenience stores. When Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds could no longer keep the Native products on the bottom shelf they joined in the opposition. The People of the Six Nations know we are right. Not everybody is a "treaty" expert, but we don't need to be. We are not defined by treaties. Our sovereignty is a birth right. In the last treaty between the US and the Six Nation, the United States acknowledged the lands we possessed to be our property and swore to never claim it or disturb us in our use of it. No right or privilege was given in these treaties, the US simply acknowledged what always was. As I stated in a previous post, Democracy does not happen in a voting booth, it may happen on the New York State Thruway.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Time to Fly the Flag

Over time symbols can lose their meanings. When a symbol or expression gets over used or exploited to the point that we consider them a part of our identity without really understanding the depth of their messages, it is time to restate the message. I think it is great that the Hiawentha Belt is so identifiable in our communities. Tattoos, T-shirts, hoodies, bumper stickers, decals, refrigerator magnets, pens, stationary and, of course, flags all carry the image of the wampum belt that symbolizes the last unification of our people and the constitution that binds us. The problem is that bearing the image does little to actually bring us together. Although it is genuinely a symbol of unity, it has become little more than a popular native design. The Seneca Nation flies the Hiawentha Belt flag right beside the American flag in front of their administration buildings. I'm not sure what message that is meant to convey, if any.

I am clearly biased on the subject of the Warrior flag, but I believe there is no symbol with as much recognition and strength of message. The flag was designed to be a symbol of unity for all Native people. It became specifically associated with the Mohawk Warriors even though it was intended for broader use. The declaration of unity, pride and resistance is its message. Although this symbol has been exploited just as the the Hiawentha Belt has, the message is not lost. It is not lost to those of us that have seen the strength of the warriors from this side and it certainly has not been lost to those that have seen it from the outside. The Warrior flag is a symbol of the people and a symbol of their strength. No nation claims the flag in spite of the fact that it sends the boldest message of sovereignty and resistance. This is because both sovereignty and resistance comes from the people. Tribal governments will likely never fly this flag. They exist removed from the people and disassociated from the Warriors, yet a Native community cannot be visited without seeing the flag flown somewhere.

It is time to send this message. It is time to fly the flag. We aren't looking for a fight, but we are not running from one either. As the State and Federal governments continue their push through our communities and attempt to criminalize our trade and commerce, we must state clearly what our position is. If those that claim to lead our communities are afraid to send this message; that's fine. They are still welcome to join the people in declaring their defiance to the outside, but whether the American flag continues to fly in front of the William Seneca Building or not matters little. The State and Feds know where true resistance comes from and that is what worries them. Every time some Native speaker makes some public statement about controlling the actions of the people, the outside authorities only wish it were true. Every Warrior flag that flies tells a different story.